Volunteering Around the World

By Caitlin Dolan

This article originally appeared in the print version of the Spring 2013 issue of The Wall.

During the academic year 2011-2012, I studied abroad in Shanghai, China to improve my Mandarin language skills and immerse myself in the Chinese culture. Upon entering Shanghai, I was able to physically experience China’s economic boom in its famous masterpiece, The Bund.

The Bund is Shanghai’s waterfront area, which holds 52 buildings and one of the richest collections of art deco in the world. Within the last 20 years, The Communist Party has built up this area for international business, tourism and architectural expression. The Bund is China’s image for the world to see how much the country has developed and thrived economi­cally.

After I joined the Habitat for Hu­manity in China, I was able to wit­ness the alarming difference between China’s extravagant Shanghai city life and the Chinese countryside. Up until this point, I imagined China to be very well developed everywhere due to the country’s rank as the world’s second largest economy.

 

How bad could homelessness be in China?

In 2008, an earthquake devas­tated the Mayan village, located on a mountain in Qionglai city in Sichuan. With a population of 1,380 people, the citizens lived in houses made of mud, wood and bricks. The village did not have appropriate sanitation, electricity or a clean water supply.

After this earthquake, many of the houses were destroyed due to mud­slides, leaving most people homeless. The Mayan people are very traditional and sheltered from the outside world, so most are uneducated and illiterate. Thus, they found it difficult to relocate and find work in the bordering city of Chengdu, another one of China’s cit­ies specifically used for international business.

Hope came to the Mayan village in 2010 when the government of Qiong­lai City supported the national “New Rural Construction Policy” to raise the safety level and improve the quality of life. For the first time, China allowed an outside organization to come in and restore homes that were damaged due to natural disasters. Habitat for Humanity was given funding to come in and build new houses that are able to hold up against an earthquake with 8.0 magnitude.

I was the leader of Team 2, in charge of lifting bricks and stones from the mud that was still left behind from the destroyed homes in order to construct new homes for the families. Aside from participating in the day’s activities, I had the opportunity to become close with one of the elders in the village, 哩哩 (Lili). I carried the debris from her destroyed home in a basket backpack that she made for us. I also went to her temporary shack on the side of the dirt road for tea and conversation. 哩哩 (Lili) told me about her family and her business collecting and distributing spring tea leaves to and from Chengdu.

She also told me that before Habitat for Humanity, she never saw a for­eigner before in her life. She is thank­ful every day for the organization helping her village to end the two years of suffer­ing spent homeless, without proper food supply or sanitation. Habitat for Human­ity is finishing up the Mayan village this fall with new homes for every family.

Through my volun­teering, I saw differ­ent kinds of home­lessness and poverty. The disaster in China created homelessness for a very rural com­munity.

In Trenton, Habitat for Humanity also plays an important role in the lives of families that are in need of stable housing. The families are always very welcoming to volunteers. There is never a day that goes by that I am not offered a cool drink or conversation.

The same is true in the Mayan Vil­lage, only in the Chinese way: tea and dumplings. Both communities wanted to get to know the volunteers from Habitat for Humanity. I can honestly say that my work in Trenton prepared me for overcoming the cultural bound­aries that were present in the Mayan Village. The families in Trenton want a safe and stable place to call home and I knew it to be the same in Mayan, China.

In my experience in China, not only was I able to volunteer, but I was also able to leave with a better understand­ing of what it means to be a volun­teer—adjusting to diverse situations to effectively serve with the little amount of time you have in that special place. Whether you are volunteering in a city or a rural village, homelessness comes in vastly different shapes and sizes. So, listen and learn, challenge your limits, and find yourself with a greater understanding for the world.

Steps to Self-Fulfillment: Beyond the TEACH Program

By Tiffany Teng

 

“The smile on her face was so worth it, I’d do it every day if I could,” Ryan described the moment he told his mother he passed the GED. After years of living on the streets, coping with his heroin drug addiction, raising his son (now 13 years old) and landing back in jail every couple of years, he is eager, yet terrified, to move on with his life. Ryan R. is a 36 year-old client at the Rescue Mission’s TEACH Program, an educational program run by Ida Malloy.

During his interview, Ryan detailed some of misconceptions about homelessness and praised programs such as TEACH. Not only is passing the GED a motivating factor to move forward, but “people like Miss Ida are the ones who motivate you, they let you know that you’re worth it whether you realize it or not…no matter how pissed off you get.”

At the Rescue Mission, he was finally motivated to make his mother (who was diagnosed with breast cancer) and son proud and by receiving an education. Currently finishing the methadone treatment, Ryan sees such programs as opportunities, but certainly no cakewalk; “you’ve got to do the footwork, no one’s gonna do it for you.”

Throughout the years, Ryan was most bothered by the stereotype that all drug addicts are awful, violent people. He points out that before he became homeless in November, he and his son used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for those on the streets. Ryan emphasized, “Homelessness doesn’t care whether you’re white, black, gay, or straight…”

 

So, what is the solution?

Successful drug treatment programs, re-entry programs and increasing the availability of housing after prison. Decreasing incarceration of drug abusers, and most of all, making people aware. Shedding light on the people living under the bridge. Having everything taken from you. “You gotta have nothing in order to know how you’ll make out.”

Ryan is a prime example of a man who came from a good, tight-knit family who fell into the wrong crowd out of sheer curiosity. He will be the first one to admit, “I did this to myself. Now I’ve got health problems, physically and mentally.”

Education, above all, is crucial to eliminating homelessness. At the very least, educating others about the issue of homelessness unearths the real problems that remain undetected and unaddressed.

Soon Ryan hopes to detox from methadone, move on with his life, and get an education.

“A place without homelessness, no drugs.”

The Rescue Mission of Trenton’s TEACH Program is a comprehensive adult education program that offers GED preparation, along with basic life skills and technical training. It strives to create employment and life-changing opportunities through its job placement program for residents. The TEACH Program relies on volunteers for tutoring and special classes. Questions can be directed to IdaM@rmtrenton.org.

St. Francis’ Mission and the Cost of Care

 

 

“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

― Saint Francis of Assisi

By Gary Kehoe

 

In 2010, Mercer County had the eighth highest percentage of people living in poverty in New Jersey—roughly 25%, according to the New Jersey Poverty Research Institute’s Poverty Benchmark report, released in May 2012. Large statistics often paint a very distant picture of what it is to be poor or in need, but today, eco­nomic struggle, often accompanied by homelessness, is no longer a concept confined to shelters and charities.

Amidst tough economic times, there remains a tight-knit, dedicated system of volunteers and professionals who make it their mission to preserve a spirit of hope and care for the most vulnerable. St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey is a leader in this mission, reaching out to those who find themselves struggling to meet one of their most basic needs, their health and well-being.

“The beauty of what St. Francis does is that we turn down no one,” said Christine Stephenson, Vice Presi­dent of St. Francis Medical Center. “Regardless of whether the patient has no address, no insurance, we will take care of them. Our doors are open.”

St. Francis is one of New Jersey’s leading care centers for the homeless and underprivileged. Despite the prox­imity of the hospital to major areas of the state, located just ten minutes from the state’s capitol and fifteen minutes from one of the state’s premier colleg­es, the individuals who pass through its doors can be very misunderstood.

In a recent interview, Ms. Stephen­son and Vice President of Mission and Ministry Russ Hansel offered their perspectives. Speaking to what he saw as an inaccurate stereotype, Hansel shared, “I think there are two definitions of ‘homeless’ that we deal with. When some people hear we take care of the homeless, they picture the stereotype of ‘druggie, alcoholic, deviant’. When you take the time to see what we are doing you realize the new definition has to be broader. It’s everyday people: single parents and children that we care for.”

“A lot of our patients do work and are insured,” Stephenson added. She explained that addiction or behav­ioral health related issues were the primary causes for admittance. Many of the patients they see cannot afford their treatments or access to services. “These people are not morally corrupt or socially deviant,” she shared. “They are just in a rough patch, you know? They don’t have money.”

Using the statistical formula devel­oped in the publication “Estimating the Need,” it is projected that over the course of a year, 2,469 adults and chil­dren are homeless in Mercer County, according to merceralliance.org, and the correlation between poor health and low income remains consistent.

According to the Legal Services of New Jersey, 13% of people reporting poor health bring in less than $15,000. (Legal Services of NJ). Stephenson and Hansel were in agreement that the heart of the issue was economic, and explained that homelessness was not only a result of economic struggle, but could also be the cause of tremendous expense to the healthcare system as well if not handled properly.

Though a citizen might be quick to think free healthcare for the uninsured or homeless to be an unfair burden on those taxpayers who are insured, it is actually, according to Stephenson, Hansel, and many other service orga­nizations, an essential way to prevent a more costly alternative.

Stephenson said that the major­ity of St. Francis’ patients seen in emergency rooms at least 40 times a year were homeless. Proactive efforts are underway to lower this number through early recognition and inter­vention, preventing costly visits to the Emergency Room in the future.

St. Francis Medical Center adds to its traditional hospital duties an out-patient service program designed to make itself an early resource and develop meaningful relationships with those who find themselves in shelters and social service programs. Rather than waiting for an individual to arrive at St. Francis, St. Francis places social workers, Nurse Practitioners (DNP’s), and even graduate-medical students in places like Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and Rescue Mission. These efforts saves the cost of frequent emergency room visits.

Stephenson and Hansel mentioned Peg Nasaro, DNP for St. Francis Med­ical Center, as one of the very impor­tant people in their care system. Once a week, Nasaro visits Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, dedicating personal time to individuals who need basic medical care on behalf of St. Francis Medical Center. Nasaro’s consistent presence and dedication to those in need is part of St. Francis’ long-term goal of developing meaningful relationships which, according to St. Francis medical staff, prove essential in care process.

“You must foster a relationship with people,” Hansel emphasized. “That personal engagement, which may take weeks or even months, helps you really understand what people’s needs are. That’s really where it starts.”

Just last year, Peg Nasaro encoun­tered a young man in T.A.S.K who claimed he felt ill. He had not been seen before in the St. Francis Emer­gency Room or hospital, but as Nasaro discovered, he was a diabetic who had gone untreated for a very long period of time and was in serious condition. The man could not afford his treat­ments, and in his present state, was not expected to live past 45. It was the early intervention by Peg Nasaro, and the handoff to St. Francis Medi­cal Center, that eventually led to the man’s recovery.

“We didn’t just release him from the hospital and forget, either,” added Stephenson. “We got him in touch with those who could help him find work to pay for his treatments. In the meantime, Russ even paid for those treatments out of his own pocket.”

Hansel nodded, assuring that, “After hospital treatment may be complete, we ensure a ‘warm handoff’ to the next step in their recovery and remain in contact. Hansel and Ste­phenson each remain in contact with their former patient, and were pleased to share that he is currently living in his own residence, employed and in good health. The man’s life and the cost of more severe emergency care in the future had he gone untreated, were saved.

This story is one of many, and those like it are not limited just to St. Francis Medical Center. As Peg Nasaro plays her role for St. Francis within T.A.S.K, so does St. Francis play its particular role in a much larger community of volunteers and profes­sionals who share the same goal.

“We are… ‘unusually blessed,’” said Stephenson, “in that we have such a tight group of people working together with us, committed to serving the needs of the people who need help most. Sometimes we even hear from other counties and they send their needy people here to Trenton.”

St. Francis Medical Center joins Henry J. Austin Medical Center, Greater Trenton Behavioral Health­care, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Res­cue Mission, and HomeFront, in the effort to connect and provide for the individuals who may find themselves in need of a helping hand.

St. Francis said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is pos­sible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Today’s economy has shown many that poverty and hard times are not impossible for anyone. A community of support in the Mercer County area makes it their mission to show that recognizing the humanity beyond stereotype, and saving the cost of care, is quite possible.

St. Francis Medical Center:

Located on the corner of Hamilton and Chambers Street, Trenton, NJ 08609

(609) 599-5000

Henry J. Austin Medical Center:

Locations in Trenton, NJ:

317 Chambers St.

321 N. Warren St.

112 Ewing St.

For immediate assistance:

(609) 278-5900

ReStore Grand Opening

By Shaun Field

The city of Trenton was once known for being a center of produc­tion for many different industries. However, as businesses began to move out, poverty began to rise and the city that once went by the slogan “Trenton Makes, The World Takes,” began to see an increase in violence and looting. If you drive around the city or hop on one of the various #600 bus lines you will notice the plethora of abandoned warehouses and apart­ment buildings lining the Route 1 corridor, many with more than one broken window.

Habitat for Humanity of Trenton is committed to serve the community of Trenton by providing affordable housing for qualifying families. Via an application process, families who qualify financially can partner with Habitat on the construction of a brand new, energy-efficient home with a zero interest mortgage.

A zero percent interest mortgage is very helpful for families with multiple children because they can save money to put towards the cost of groceries and healthcare. However, this is not the only resource Habitat for Human­ity of Trenton is providing in Mercer County.

On the White House authorized National Day of Service, which also fell aptly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Habitat for Humanity of Tren­ton officially opened the doors to the ReStore located at 106 Ewing Street at the cross of Ogden St. and Southard St.

The ReStore is a self-service ware­house of donated furniture, appliances, cabinetry, flooring, paint and construc­tion supplies, which are sold at a heav­ily reduced rate from retail stores such as Home Depot and Lowes.

Shoppers are treated to a plethora of new and like new cabinet sets, brand new boxes of tile and carpets, and a show room of antique and mod­ern furniture. At reduced prices, shop­pers can walk away with a two piece living room set for less than the price of one piece in a retail establishment.

There is a segment of the popula­tion in Trenton that has found com­fort in the newly established store. Landlords and construction special­ists frequent the store for appliances, doors, windows and flooring. As well, homeowners have found smaller things, such as light fixtures, furniture and dishware to their liking.

As a benefactor of the commu­nity, Habitat has been operating a food pantry with fresh vegetables on Fridays and an after-school Learning Lab for children from ages 6-13. The Habitat of Trenton has now, however, expanded its sphere of influence by adding the ReStore.

The ReStore is not only a win for the community. Habitat for Human­ity of Trenton also reaps the benefit of income generation that is used for operational costs and is then turned directly towards the construction of new homes.

Tom Caruso, the Executive Direc­tor at Habitat said the sale of “these donated new and used items helps Habitat fund our programs for the low income clients we serve. This additional means of raising funds is critical. The economy has decreased donor contributions significantly and the ReStore will help fill the gap.” In other words, the Habitat ReStore provides a cycling of funds that helps all shoppers, patrons, children, and partner families in different ways.

The Habitat for Humanity of Tren­ton ReStore is one of many affiliate-run ReStores across the country. In New Jersey alone, there are more than 13 Habitat for Humanity affiliates and 6 Restores, allowing for multiply com­munities to receive the added benefits the ReStore has to offer.

The Habitat for Humanity of Tren­ton ReStore is located at 106 Ewing Street in Trenton, New Jersey (at the cross of Ogden St. and Southard St.) and the winter hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 9:00a.m. – 4:00p.m.

Check out Habitat for Humanity online at habitatta.org for informa­tion on all of Habitat’s programs. You can also follow them on Facebook at ‘Habitat of Trenton’ or Twitter at @habitat_trenton for various deals and promotions at the ReStore!

Project Homeless Connect’s Impact

 

“You wouldn’t call somebody ‘lung cancer,’ so why label people as ‘homeless’? It’s an impermanent condition, and should be regarded as such.”

― Tarry Truitt

By Tiffany Teng

 

Project Homeless Connect is a one-stop event for those experienc­ing homelessness, providing access to housing and legal services, medical care, clothing, haircuts, and food. Ap­proximately 300 people attended the event, and were surveyed.

Downstairs in the Samaritan Bap­tist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, patrons received services and free items. Trial sizes of Mary Kay lip balm, Palmolive hand soap, and other toiletries populated the tables while massages tables, blankets and heavy winter coats lined the pe­rimeter of the basement. Blue table­cloths indicated housing services, red for health and green for social servic­es. Crisis Ministries, Catholic Chari­ties, Henry J. Austin Health Center, St. Francis Medical Center, Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, The Rescue Mis­sion and Social Security were among the services represented.

As a volunteer surveyor, I had the rare opportunity to interview the patrons and ask questions such as, “Where will you be spending tomor­row night?” and “What happened to land you in this situation?”

A few specific cases stood out. At over 80 years old, one Vietnamese woman was pushing a metal cart dou­bling as a walker with a couple boxes of cardboard—in her frustration, she ripped off a piece to scribble down her name “Nguyho” as I tried helplessly to speak to her in English and Chinese, neither of which she understood. A 26-year old woman with three chil­dren was bitter about Hurricane Sandy because she was still displaced after Hurricane Irene. General assistance welfare, food stamps and Medicaid were not enough to sustain her fam­ily—she needed permanent housing and employment. Another man said he had been homeless for all of his 60 years.

Others I surveyed ranged from ages 30 to 60. Some suffered drug abuse problems, high blood pressure, mental issues, and poor physical health. Some were not actually homeless or jobless, just in need of more social services to support their families.

All of them had two things in com­mon: compelling stories and dwin­dling strength. This is what they are telling us, this is what is true. Without basic human needs, these people are desperate for aid and are lucky to have access to programs such as Project Homeless Connect.

Homelessness knows no boundar­ies. Some are fighting to survive while others are transplanted from friends to families to shelters. It hardens them and it erases identity. One learns to discard embarrassment for a chance to become better.

During my time as Editor-in-Chief of the Wall, I finally understood the gravity of the homelessness issue in Mercer County. And this is just one sliver of the silent voices that continue to struggle for survival.

Annual Point-in-Time Count

The Point-In-Time Count, mandated by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), sent teams out starting Wednesday, January 30 at 5 P.M. for exactly 24 hours.

During the overnight time the Rescue Mission of Trenton sent teams out looking for street home­less individuals.

Starting at 6:00 A.M., there were teams at Turning Point Unit­ed Methodist Church, Salvation Army Drop-In Center, and street teams across the county, in which 110 surveys were completed. In addition, each agency completed surveys for anyone in shelters or in transitional housing.

The annual results are posted on merceralliance.org and are pro­vided to HUD as part of reports and requests for funding.

During the year additional in­formation is collected by the shel­ters and agencies in the Homeless Information System which is reported to the Continuum of Care for planning purposes.

Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.